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American Pie: Reunion - Movie Review
It’s difficult to review American Pie: Reunion without instinctively reaching for those rose tinted spectacles, particularly having been part of the teenage generation who embraced the first few films back in the late 90’s/early 2000’s, and it is clear from the outset that despite the time period that has elapsed since the franchises last true entry (American Pie: The Wedding in 2003) this is a film catered to those familiar with the series and not one intending to take it in any particularly new or original directions.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing - an audience going to watch an American Pie movie will likely know what to expect and get precisely that, and this is definitely the best installment since the second movie, but it is disappointing to see so many of the narrative threads and character arcs be such derivative and generally less-compelling rehashes of what we’ve already seen before.
The films plot sees the return of the full quota of characters from the first two movies gathering at their hometown of East Great Falls, setting of the first films, for their high school reunion. In the decade that has passed Jim (Jason Biggs) and Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) now have a young child that has dampened the fire in the bedroom (yes, that familiar parental dilemma once more), Stifler (Sean William Scott) is inexplicably working for a major corporate firm where he is somehow able to waltz around womanising and generally being offensive despite a boss who clearly loathes him, Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) is married yet stifled by a wife obsessed with reality tv and Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) has been enigmatically traveling the world and leading a nomadic life in his own unique, inimitable manner.
However despite the setup, once everyone is back together in Michigan the tried-and-tested blend of gross-out comedy, sexual depravity and familiar hijinks resumes and much of the journey and changes the characters have been on in the inter-rim is generally forgotten or quickly become redundant. The issue of Jim becoming a parent, for instance, is relatively ignored with the exception of the tired issue of relationship and sexual woes that have developed since the arrival of his son. It is touched upon lightly with some dialogue between Jim and his father (another scene-stealing turn by the ever-dependable Eugene Levy) but there is no real pathos or poignancy to how his being a father has affected or changed him as an individual in any tangible way. This is not necessarily a bad thing, however, as the few times the movie does attempt to delve deeper with Jim and Michelle’s parentage and relationship issues it coasts at a very conventional and predictable level, and in a film which was never intended to be a particularly involved character study it is these elements which drag the film down, particular with such atypical and unoriginal character conflicts and execution.
Likewise, old flames and storylines from the previous films are re-ignited with such convenience and speed that they generally fail to engage. Characters such as Oz and Kev, never the most compelling or engaging of the group, are given relatively little to do aside from being forced to deal with re-hashes of the same temptations and romances they went through in the first two films. These are stories which were resolved over a decade ago, and to revisit them in such a perfunctory and convenient manner with some of the least compelling members of the cast (both male and female) feels indulgent and pointless.
Luckily, despite all this unnecessary and ill-judged narrative excess, there is enough of what made the original films so entertaining to redeem Reunion, particularly for those who are already fans of the series, who will appreciate the wealth of in-jokes and references thrown in throughout. Some of the comedic set-pieces and situations are wonderfully cringe-inducing and peppered with laugh-out-loud moments, including a protracted highlight when Jim is forced to return his drunken teenage neighbour to her home despite being half-naked and drunk enough to shame Oliver Reid, and Stifler’s sabotaging of a jock seaside picnic is wonderfully disgusting and over-the-top. It is scenes like this where Reunion remembers its calling card, and whilst there is nothing revolutionary or particularly inventive in any of the comedy throughout, it is pitched perfectly at the expected level and executed perfectly by a cast we are more than happy to welcome back to our screens.
As mentioned, there is a definite imbalance of focus, and Sean William Scott’s Stifler, whilst as raucous yet endearing as ever, dominates proceedings (and screentime) to such an extent that it only compounds the shortcomings of some of the supporting characters and storylines. The desire to bring back practically the entirety of the original cast sees characters sometimes shoehorned in awkwardly, and with the likes of the ‘MILF guys’, much of their involvement is given so little context it will go completely over the heads of any unfamiliar with the series. Finch’s story is given an unexpected but ultimately quickly-reversed twist and a cameo from Shannon Elizabeth’s Nadia is much too abrupt and fails to really register.
Additionally, the film has an awkward and somewhat unrealistic handling of the passage of time since the first film, beating us round the head with self-awareness and references to Facebook, Nikki Minaj etc. in a way that seems as though these characters have been living under a rock for the past 10 years and that so much of what has happened in the meantime is almost alien to them. Being of the same generation as the characters, there is just not the stark divide in culture and understanding between teenagers and those in their mid-late 20’s that the film attempts to paint, and it is when the film leans on this almost fish-out-of-water humour (Stifler and cell phones being one such example) where it falters most and fails to ring true.
With so many characters and derivative subplots being thrown into the mix and some ill-judged attempts at social commentary, it is a testimony to the enduring appeal of the characters and nature of the humour involved that American Pie: Reunion still somehow just about manages to work. The original spark that made the originals great is still there, mostly courtesy of Stifler, Jim, his father and the likes of the criminally under-used Jennifer Coolidge as Stifler’s mom, and credit has to go to some dependable and entertaining comedy sequences throughout. It won’t have the impact the first two movies did by any stretch of the imagination, and in some ways will only really be fully appreciated and even understood by those who already know exactly what Jim did to that pie back in 1999, but that is kind of the point.
As with most real-life reunions, this is a generally irrelevant and unneeded exercise, but one which comes with a nice kick of nostalgia. By comedy standards it shows its age in comparison to the likes of more recent fare such as Bridesmaids and The Hangover, but you will get precisely what you come to expect from a decent American Pie outing so, for many, that is all the recommendation needed. If you’ve not seen any of the preceding movies then you may need to knock a star off the rating, but otherwise go ahead and help yourself to another solid, yet unspectacular, slice of American Pie.
RATING - * * * (3 out of 5 Stars)
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